Parrish Gaines knew what to expect when he went into Navy's defensive team meeting Monday at Ricketts Hall.
Making his second straight start in the team's 42-14 victory over Troy Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the freshman cornerback forced an early fumble and tied a career-high with seven tackles, but he had the same feeling as after the previous six games — all of them losses.
"I still go into film [session] nervous, because when you watch film it's a totally different thing," Gaines said. "You might have played good, but watching that film, there's a whole lot of different things, fundamental-wise. They see everything on that film."
On the play that Gaines forced the fumble, defensive coordinator Buddy Green and secondary coach Keith Jones pointed out that Gaines lost his angle in initially making the tackle of the Troy tailback, and that he was fortunate to get a hand in to wedge the ball free.
Gaines' play was one of many that a maligned Navy defense made in helping end its long losing streak, but the reaction of Green and his staff was typical: it was time to move on to the next game — and an even bigger challenge — when Navy (3-6) plays Southern Methodist (6-3) Saturday in Dallas.
"They're great at what they do," Green said of the Mustangs, who rank 15th in the country in passing at nearly 300 yards a game. "It's fun to watch but it's not fun to defend."
Green will watch the game again from the coaching box, something he did Saturday for the first time since the end of the 2007 season, when he moved upstairs for the last four regular season games — all victories.
"I don't know if I called a better game. You always feel like you made good calls, sometimes they work and sometimes they don't," said Green, who is in his 10th season at Navy. "It just allowed me — with teams that run no-huddle — to get a little better idea of who's going in the game, who's going out. I thought we just needed a change."
The biggest difference for the Midshipmen was the pressure they put on the Troy quarterbacks, who didn't complete a pass longer than 14 yards until Navy had built its lead to 42-7 and was using second and third-stringers.
"Obviously the key to playing good pass defense is getting pressure," Green said. "It was one of the keys last week to be in position to break on the ball. That's the most important thing to play on the back end."
Senior defensive end and co-captain Jabaree Tuani said that as Navy's lead grew, so did the team's energy level.
"You saw sparks everywhere, coming from the D-line, the linebackers and the DBs, people were making plays, getting fired up," Tuani said. "You see everyone trying to get us off the field on third down. I think they were 5 of 13 in third-down situations, it was probably the first time we won the third-down battle in probably the last six weeks."
Said Gaines, "The difference between our losses and our win last week was us rallying as a team. I'm sure everyone had fun this game. We were jumping around when we made a play. From the losses that we had, we were kind of playing like robots. Doing everything fundamentally, but just not having fun."
What is encouraging to Green is the continud emergence of younger players who will eventually take over leadership roles from veterans such as Tuani and senior safety Kwesi Mitchell.
Gaines has started the past two games, and freshman safety Chris Ferguson has started the past three. Junior defensive ends Collin Sturdivant — who recovered a fumble and had a sack against Troy — and Josh Jones are getting their first significant playing time of their careers.
"Some of the guys, because of injuries, they've stepped in when their number was called," Green said "Parrish is getting better every week. He's got 2 1/2 games under his belt right now. Chris Ferguson's got 3 1/2. Sturdivant stepped up last week. Josh Jones made some plays. That's guys who've gotten their chance and taken advantage of it."
Saturday's challenge will be decidedly tougher than the Troy game. Along with the pressure that comes from having to win to keep alive their hopes of becoming bowl-eligible, the Midshipmen will be facing a team known for its vertical passing game under coach June Jones.
"They're always good [offensively]," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "June knows exactly he's doing. There's not any blitz or coverage that they haven't seen. You're not going to surprise him. Phenomenal football coach, great teacher. We're going to have our hands full."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun